Constituents query Ekwunife over absence from Senate plenary
• I am sorry, it wasn’t deliberate – Senator
The Senate session of Thursday July 15, 2021, during which Senators voted on the controversial Electoral Act Amendment draft bill is at the centre of verbal war between the ranking Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District, Iyom Uche Ekwunife and her constituents.
In what presents as the first formal query on a legislator in Nigeria, the leaders of Obosi Development Union (ODU) said the lawmaker’s absence at plenary cost them their voice and representation on a crucial bill.
Senator Ekwunife was among the 28 lawmakers that were absent from plenary last Thursday when the bill was subjected to a vote by the federal legislators in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
Piqued by her absence, members of the union resident in Abuja, met and composed a query demanding explanations from the lawmaker on why she should be out of plenary during such a crucial sitting.
In a copy of the query, which was sighted by The Guardian, ODU, which office is situated at 54 Lobito Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja, told Ekwunife to render appropriate explanation to justify her absence.
“Please, note that unless satisfactory explanation is offered, our members, your constituents at large; are inclined to view your action as typical of politicians, who profit or hope to profit from election result manipulation that has bedevilled our electoral system, and frustrated the desires of the people to elect representatives of their choice as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution, as amended.”
The letter was signed by Engineer Goddy Ikebuaku and Barrister Chimezie Obi, chairman and secretary respectively of ODU, Abuja.
They pointed out that, “as a representative in the Senate, we expect that when very sensitive and important decisions or voting are taking place, you will not only make yourself available, but also use every means possible to lobby your colleagues to support initiatives that will advance the cause of your constituents.”
ODU recalled the many instances of violence, carnage and destruction of property that attended electoral disputations during collation of election results, stressing that they looked forward to the Electoral Act amendment to solve the associated problems through electronic transmission of votes.
Part of the letter addressed to Ekwunife read: “We are members of ODU, Abuja Branch, your constituents, whom you represent at the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
“We observed with dismay from the compilation of the votes and proceedings of Senators for the bill on Electronic Transmission of Election Results, that you were absent on Thursday, July 15, 2021; when the draft bill was put to vote on the floor of the Senate chamber, a day that presented an opportunity for history to be made in the electoral process of the Federal Republic of Nigeria-a country bedevilled with various forms of electoral riggings and manipulations.
“We have no doubt that you are aware that the disaffection with the electoral system in Nigeria is intrinsically connected to the lack of integrity and confidence in the election result delivery process.
“The acrimony and violence in our electoral process has led to fatalities, too numerous to mention. Obosi, as a town, has experienced quite a number of fracases that culminated in death during the election result collation process, hence our feeling of disappointment that our voice did not count owing to your absence on that day of the vote.”
In her written response, Senator Ekwunife apologised for her absence, recalling how she had in the past stated her support for electronic transmission of election results.
“I wish to sincerely apologise to all those who feel disappointed that I wasn’t there to cast my vote. I am not someone that would stay or shy away from such an important activity. As a servant of the people, I always try to meet up with every of my constituency engagements to the best of my ability,” she declared.
Backing up her contribution with evidence of past advocacy for electronic transmission of outcome of balloting, the second term Senator stated: “Even though some argued that INEC should be allowed to choose or exempt areas where there are poor network coverage, I vehemently argued against such position, which in my opinion would favour some regions against others, knowing full well that the Southeast is one of the regions in Nigeria that have good network coverage.
“I stated that if ATM, PoS, Internet Banking and other electronic transactions are obtainable nationwide, I do not see why electronic transfer of election results cannot be equally achieved nationwide.
“I argued with respect to the situation where card readers were used in the Southeast in the last general elections, while manual voting were allowed in some other parts of the country, which significantly affected the voting strength of the region in the previous elections.”
Ekwunife, whose second coming in 2015 was truncated by inexplicable Court Judgment, remarked that although she considers “the recent complaints by some constituents as germane, it is important to state that my absence at the time of voting was never deliberate.”
Her words: “The deliberation on the electoral act which was supposed to come up on Wednesday was moved to Thursday, and was expected to stretch to Monday, July 19, for voting, however during the plenary on Thursday after some of us had travelled, Senators present extended plenary hours to vote on the electronic transmission in order to conclude it same day instead of continuing on Monday, which was why the Senate plenary lasted till 9p.m.
“However, due to my already fixed engagements in my senatorial district, where I was scheduled to commission some projects, including a 3-bedroom bungalow we built for a less-privileged woman in Isu-Aniocha, as well as a block of classrooms at Community Secondary School Ukpo and perimeter fence project in the school, amongst other engagements, I had to travel to Anambra to meet up, while hoping to join my colleagues on Monday for the voting. Unfortunately, it was not stretched to Monday as Senate adjourned for annual recess.”
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